Tackling Ebola, drawing on Philadelphia

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    Just a few years ago, a top health official in Sierra Leone was a student in Philadelphia. Now he’s applying the knowledge he gained 4,000 miles away to battle the worst outbreak of Ebola in history — and calling for help from those in his former city.

    As a policy analyst for the president of Sierra Leone and armed with a master’s degree in public health from the University of the Sciences, Samuel Dilito Turay wants to do more to stop the spread of the disease. His country of 6 million people has been hit hard. As of last week, the World Health Organization recorded 1,361 cases and 509 deaths in Sierra Leone.

    “The primary challenge we have now is educating our people to let them know that handshaking is a risk,” said Turay in a phone conversation from Freetown, the capital. “When somebody dies of Ebola, they should not touch the body.”

    To convey those messages, Turay and a team of 10 volunteers who are a part of his NGO, Hands For Life, have been visiting villages. But he wants to do a more extensive outreach campaign through Hands For Life, which began several years ago with the help of his University of the Sciences professors.

    “We are going to do house-to-house campaigns to educate people about Ebola,” he said. “In the process, if we come across people who are infected already, we try to move them out and bring them to a health care system.”

    Because his team members understand the language and customs of Sierra Leone, Turay said the community might be more receptive to him than than to outsiders.

    Claudia Parvanta, chair of the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of the Sciences, agrees.

    “Basically, the WHO and CDC will be perceived as scary,” she said. “From the beginning, Sam’s been very focused on trying to both comfort people as well as identify where the illness is and take care of that. He’s a natural humanitarian.”

    Parvanta has set up an online fundraiser, sponsored by Healing the Children New Jersey, to benefit Turay’s Ebola education campaign. He needs supplies such as medical gloves, a loudspeaker, as well as money to print the informational pamphlets.

    So far, they have raised more than $2,800 of their $20,000 goal.

    The United States has already spent $100 million to help combat the outbreak.

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